Venezuela 1998-2018: 20 years, 7 elections, 2 charts and Some Hypotheses


Elections seldom act as a true mirror – a century ago we heard about soldiers ‘voting with their feet’ in favour of demobilisation and Bolsheviks getting only about a quarter of popular votes in the constituent assembly election weeks after the Bolshevik revolution. But election results can show some trends within the society and it will not be prudent to keep eyes shut to those.

Let us see some data from seven Venezuelan Presidential Elections from 1998the election when Chavez first won as the president, to 2018, the election that took place recently, including the recall referendum 2004. Voters turnout (%) – a solid line, percentage of polled votes that Chavez (and then Maduro) got – a dashed line, and percentage of eligible voters who turned out on the polling day to vote for Chavez (later Maduro)– a dotted line, are plotted here.

Figure 1: Venezuela Elections 1998-2018

Figure 1 for Venezuela 1998 2018

A close look at the trends may lead us to divide the 20 years’ epoch into 3 phases: (1) 1998-2006, Chavista votes were increasing including an initial hesitancy; (2) 2006-2012, a slow decline in Chavista votes relatively; and finally, (3) 2012-2018, the post-Chavez phase.

Phase 1 – 1998-2006: Total turnout increasing despite a dip in 2000, Chavista vote % (out of votes cast) showing roughly an increasing trend; and Chavista votes out of total number of voters increasing after little drop in 2000, sharpest increase was in between 2004 and 2006.More people were coming to vote, and higher % of eligible voters arereaching polling stations to vote for Chavez;

Phase 2 – 2006-2012: Total turnout increased; Chavista vote % (out of votes cast) showed decline; alsoChavista vote % out of total number of voters fell, though slower than the former; this implies that more people came out to vote, but more of those participating in vote are anti-Chavistas (in absolute terms, Chavez gained 0.882 million votes and the opposition 2.299 million votes)– a somewhat disturbing fact;

Phase 3 – 2012-2018: Total turnout decreased in 2013 and decreased sharply in 2018;Chavista vote % (out of votes cast) showingsharp decline in 2013 (difference of vote% got by Maduro and the opposition candidate was below 1.5%), but later, % of votes got by Maduro had a sharp increase in 2018, though this can be treated as an irregularity because turnout was very poor; in contrast, Chavista vote % out of total voters is declining since 2012, it is now down to 31% – a disquieting feature.

To make the picture clearer here is another chart showing – (1) absolute numbers of Chavista votes in hundred thousand (solid line), (2) Chavista votes as % of votes cast (dashed line) and (3) relative number of Chavista, i.e., % of eligible adult population coming to polling stations to vote in a Chavista way, this time including 2007 and 2009 referenda.

Figure 2: Chavista Votes, Absolute and Relative

Figure 2 for Venezuela 1998 2018

The aforesaid parameters are also presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Chavista Votes, Absolute and Relative

Voting Date Chavista Votes (number) Chavista Votes as % of polledvotes Chavista Votes as % of total voters
06-12-1998 3,673,685 56.20 35.66
30-07-2000 3,757,773 59.76 33.65
15-08-2004 5,800,629 59.00 41.30
03-12-2006 7,309,080 62.84 46.94
02-12-2007 4,357,264 49.12 27.45
15-02-2009 6,310,482 54.85 38.58
07-10-2012 8,191,132 55.07 44.32
14-04-2013 7,587,579 50.61 40.33
20-05-2018 6,224,016 67.84 31.25


Again, let us have a look at the 3 phases:

Phase 1 – 1998-2006: Absolute number of Chavista votes had an increasing trend, 3.67 million→ 3.78 million→ 5.80 million → 7.31 million; and so also the % of total eligible voters coming out to vote for Chavista (let us call them Chavist-active), though with a little jerk: 35.66→33.65→41.30→46.94. Let us name it a Positive Phase. This Chavist-active can serve as a measure of pro-Chavista spontaneity in the society.

Phase 2 – 2006-2012: Absolute number of Chavista votes finally increased by 0.88 million after falling in a ditch during constitutional referenda of 2007 and 2009, e.g.,7.31 million → 4.38 million → 6.31 million → 8.19 million, but % Chavist-active fell, at first drastically and then made a recovery: 46.94→27.45→38.58→44.32. It is then an Uncertain Phase.

Phase 3 – 2012-2018: Absolute number of Chavista votes is decreasing steadily, 8.19 million → 7.58 million → 6.22 million, total fall of 1.97 million. And % Chavist-active is also decreasing steadily 44.32→40.33→31.25, total fall of 13.07 percentage points. There is Absolute and relative fall of Chavista votes. Surely it is an Alarming Phase.

The Three Phases —The Way Traversed

What were the political dynamics of the classes and strata within the Venezuelan society for those 20 years? How do those corroborate or disprove the trends as surfaced from election statistics? The present author is not well versed about Venezuelan history to answer with certitude but would like to present some hypotheses with the hope that knowledgeable persons would explain the dynamics of this short historical period. It is important because we need to switch from celebration/complacence mode to introspection mode and formulate course of action. Only a few facts will be mentioned just to give rough idea of the phase concerned for the sake of brevity.

The first eight years of Chavez era, 1998-2006, or rather, its second half, 2002-2006, was a turbulent time. Turbulent not merely in dictionary sense, Venezuela has seen stormy periods in history, but this was first time when the masses of the toiling classes were breaking old shackles and coming to participate in shaping history. The first half of this Phase 1, Dec 1998 to Apr 2002, it was Chavez who initiated a kind of welfare-regime with the help of his group (of army). Within 3 months Chavez started Plan Bolivar 2000, minimum wage increase was decreed in mid-2000.State revenue from petroleum was used to fund various welfare measures by the government and increasing oil price helped a lot. On May 2001 Bolivarian Circles were formed. Treaty with Cuba in 2000 resulted in a sea change in terms of medical facilities available to Venezuelan poor. The first attempts of land reform started in the land where within this period of 7-8 years more than a hundred landless peasants were assassinated by big owners.Chavez showed the courage of defying US imperialism in many cases in the international arena even at the risk of intervention, Venezuela being geographically so close to the US.And thus Chavez became beloved and esteemed name to the anti-imperialist struggling people of the world. Venezuelan reactionaries aided by US imperialism tried their best to foment troubles and in April 2002 there was an attempt of coup d’état. People allied with major part of the military could foil the coup. This is one of the most glorious peaks in the history of Venezuela and surely also of Latin America. After this failed venture the capitalists started their strike in 2002-03. Again, the people foiled that attempt. During these fights ‘workers control’ developed [[1]]. New workers’ organisation, the UNT, was formed in 2003. A great surge was seen in peoples awakening, exercising their power participating in decision making, and the regime made some spaces in this respect. 2005 saw effective nationalisation of PDVSA operations, INVEVAL, INVEPAL, etc., co-management started in nationalised Aluminium factory. In the 2005 May day demonstration in Caracas around half a million workers participated, and many more participated in May day 2006 march where one slogan was for ‘Ten million votes for Chavez’.

In the next phase there were more predicaments. There were some clear signs of internal rifts when the revolutionary process started crystallising. Already in the 2005 conference of UNT there were discords. When the much needed ‘party of the revolution’ (PSUV) came into being in 2007 March, there also divergences appeared. The 2007 December constitutional referendum saw the first ‘defeat’ of the Chavista camp which was mainly due to haste and under-preparation. (Tariq Ali noted [[2]]: “44 percent of the electorate stayed at home. Why? First, because they did not either understand or accept that this was a necessary referendum.”) In 2008 we had the SIDOR nationalisation. But that revealed the harsh ground reality which was still there in Venezuela well into 10th years of Chavez rule — presence of a harsh capitalist system aided actively by the state apparatus: repeated workers strikes, clashes with police, workers jailed, wounded [[3]]. In 2008-2009 there were several other nationalisations including in food industry. In 2009 constitutional referendum Chavista votes recuperated to almost 55% of votes cast. Later, in 2010 national assembly elections there was a little jolt, Chavez camp was set to miss two-third seats majority, which was needed for legislation. Plan Socialist Guayana, ongoing since 2009, entered a new phase in 2010 with swearing in of worker presidents of nationalised factories. Enterprises of Social Community Property or EPSC, collective properties of communities, started in 2009 and within that year there were 271 such councils (within 2013 there were more than 44,000 councils). More than 350,000 houses were built within 2011 and 2012. On the other side Imperialist-capitalist economic and social offensives were continuing. As regards internal conflicts, discontent against so-called Boli-bourgeoisie and indigenous right wing was increasing. Inflation was already rampant. But the government was trying to protect people by minimum wage rise – 26.5% in 2011 and 32.25% in 2012 – to be met with oil income of the state. (By the way, Venezuelan nationalisations were not like Russian no-compensation nationalisations about a century ago, in Venezuela ‘generous compensations’ were given out, as told by Éric Toussaint [[4]].)

The post-Chavez phase showed signs of a ‘running out of steam’ of the Chavista reforms, welfare measures and a little participatory space creation. No big stories of workers control were coming out after 2013. Economy is in a terrible phase. As such capitalism in the so called global south does not bother much about the half-baked ‘bourgeois democracy’ that is installed there, and in the post-cold-war era imperialists have more sway over countries of south; together ‘national’ and ‘imperial’ capitalists can manipulate a lot to destabilise welfarist regimes if they dare disobey imperialism. Inflation, speculation, black-marketing of essential commodities, all are continuing unabated and the government is seen to be helpless in combatting those evils. US led imperialist axis is trying to strangulate Venezuela by blockade and sanctions.The industry is also malfunctioning. Perhaps only one example is enough to demonstrate the weakness of the government, sinking of the PDVSA, the main earner of the welfare-state [[5]]. Aggrieved workers are sometimes erupting into fights against capitalist and state machinery (police) e.g., in Lácteos Los Andes in Feb this year[[6]]. Some old reform programs are still continuing notwithstanding tremendous difficulties faced by the government: for example,recent distribution of 8881 new homes under the Gran MisiónVivienda Venezuela program to take the total to 1,926,448 [[7]]; this April government gave peasants 44,000 hectares of land in continuation of the land reform program to take the total to six million hectares till now [[8]](btw, from these data one can guess the momentum of these two reforms at the last year by comparing last year’s achievement and the total).Among the people there are much wavering: in 2015 Dec 6 election (17 years after Chavez’s first election) Chavista was defeated 55-109 (in terms of seats, in terms of votes it was 5.62 million vs 7.73 million, turnout was 74%); but in 2017 city council election Chavista won 300-35 in Mayor’s positions (turnout only 47%, i.e., 53% abstention), and a review by Prof OcielAlí Lopez even hinted a possible Maduro win in 2018 election in case of wide abstention (which did happen, 54% abstention) [[9]].(Prof Lopez presented an interesting account regarding difference between Chavez way and Maduro way succinctly in point no: 6 of the article mentioned.) Thousands of workers marched on the occasion of May day and called for Maduro win [[10]], also we had a dejected statement from a leader of electricity workers’ union [[11]] while a month earlier we heard calls of abstention in presidential election from a number of activists [[12]].

Way Ahead

Since the endof cold-war era US imperialist hegemonismgot free hand and could increase its dominance and plunder the world over. US and its allies even contemplatepunitive measures against their otherwise ally reactionary government of some country if the latter shows a little defiance [[13]]. But, on the other side, the international anti-imperialist revolutionary struggle is still very weak – the international working class solidarity that the Russian revolution was lucky to get before a century, those strikes of French and British workers against their own ruling class actively spoiling war and encirclement efforts, these are our proud memories but only memoriesof our gloriouspast; half a century ago those anti-imperialist waves of protest the world over in the Vietnam days, the anti-draft and anti-war movement within the empire, those are also memories of past. Sadly, we could not yet in effectbuild up even a fraction of such solidarity in support of the Venezuelan people fighting imperialists and native bourgeoisie and big landowners. The revolutionary process inside Venezuela, like that in other countries too, is also not yet that much strong so as to take things head on, to fight the native ruling classes frontally with the aim of smashing the state apparatus (all the pillars of the old state), confiscating landed property of the ruling classes (without compensation), taking over the productive apparatus, establishing a works-peasants state and march towards socialism. If a temporary setback happens to Venezuela, it will not be failure only of our Venezuelan workers and peasants, it will be a failure of all of us.

The weakness that is there all over the world is not merely organisational (in the sense of class, not in the sense of weakness of this or that party), it is alsoregarding political preparation. One of the shortcomings is concerning appraisal of the history of the international working class movement, particularly that of the past century, and this is behind many inadequate theorisations.Also the spread ofimproper notions of ‘socialism’, ‘commune’ and etc. is a concern. In this context there should be a re-examination of the ideas the go by the name of ‘Socialismof 21stCentury’(and of many other varieties of socialisms, like Corbyn’s socialism, or even “Xi Jinping ThoughtonSocialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,”alsoincluding many ideas carried over from our past).This is a necessary task towards resurrection of the international working class movement.

[1]“We must say it clearly, during the stoppage and sabotage of December 2002 and January 2003, there was workers’ control in the two most important state-owned companies. In the [oil company] PDVSA there was workers’ control. It was us, the workers, who restarted production in the company after the managers had left, …. In the case of [electricity generator and supplier] CADAFE the workers guaranteed the supply of electricity throughout the stoppage/sabotage. It was the workers who did it; there was real workers’ control. …” Ruben Linares in “Interview with Ruben Linares, national coordinator of the UNT – “The way is socialism and workers’ control”” – Jorge Martin, 07 July 2005, Hands Off Venezuela,

[2]“44 percent of the electorate stayed at home. Why? First, because they did not either understand or accept that this was a necessary referendum.” Tariq Ali, Venezuela AftertheReferendum, Dec 3, 2007,

[3]100 detenidos y una docena de heridos en SIDOR: NO a la represión de la GN y a las maniobras del ministro del Trabajo, por: Juventud de Izquierda Revolucionaria, 14/03/2008, Aporrea

[4]Nationalization and Workers’ Control: Achievements and Limitations by Éric Toussaint, MRONLINE, Sep 26, 2010,






[10]We find a poster with strong national feeling– “We the workers will not deliver the country to the Empire and its lackeys! For this reason, for any difficulty, we celebrate the day of work, preparing to vote for our worker president! … Nicolas as president and Venezuelan Petroleum will remain Venezuelan!”



[13]for example – ‘Some U.S. allies caught in crossfire of sanctions on Russian arms’ April 24, 2018,

Sandeep Banerjee is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India.  Presently he works in a research organisation. He can be reached at [email protected]


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